Sunday, 23 February 2014

Apathy! British Airways Dismantles Mumbai Author's Wheelchair

Apathy! British Airways Dismantles Mumbai Author's Wheelchair

Malini Chib, noted author and activist who has cerebral palsy, was stranded at London’s Heathrow airport for over two hours as airport staff struggled to put her personal wheelchair back together. Her parents have now demanded an explanation from the airline authorities. Chib was on a British Airways flight from Mumbai en route to Canada to deliver a lecture.

She was travelling to Canada to deliver the keynote address at an international conference on ‘Leadership in the face of adversity’.

But even before she could reach her destination, author and activist Malini Chib faced a bigger hurdle, when British Airways, the airlines she was traveling in, dismantled and took apart her wheel chair before loading the chair in the plane’s cargo.

As a result, when she arrived in London, her first stopover en route to Canada, Chib found herself stranded for over two hours as airline staff at Heathrow frantically tried to put the machine together again. Chib, who has Cerebal Palsy, is also the secretary of Able Disable All People Together (ADAPT earlier known as the Spastics Society of India.

Speaking to SUNDAY MiD DAY from London, Chib confirmed she was stranded at Heathrow after her personal wheelchair was tampered with. Chib is now in London, where she has an alternate residency. She will head the conference, organised by the University of Virginia at Canada, soon.

According to her mother Dr Mithu Alur, managing trustee of ADAPT, Chib and her father Sathi Alur boarded the British Airways flight from Mumbai to London on Thursday, February 20. “They had business class tickets and the aircraft took off in the afternoon,” she said.

According to Alur, her daughter had checked-in her wheelchair, which had a dry battery. This is not a harmful battery and poses no danger, but since the airlines insisted, it was checked-in and loaded as part of cargo.

“When she landed in London however, and the baggage was unloaded, it was found that someone had completely dismantled the wheelchair before loading it,” Alur said.

Speaking to SMD, Dr Alur said, “As a mother, I am deeply hurt at what has happened. My husband has emailed a letter to the British Airways demanding an explanation and asking what corrective measures they would take to avoid such incidents in future.

The wheel chair had a dry battery cell and there was no need to dismantle it in the first place. I will also write to the Director General of Civil Aviation here,” she added. According to her, Chib could finally leave the airport after two hours, once the airport staff at Heathrow managed to put the chair back together.

First time this has happened

A frequent traveller to various international conferences and events, Chib says she has always travelled with her special electrical wheelchair. This is the first time such an incident has occurred.

Her father Sathi Alur, who was with her, confirmed the incident and said, “I would want to know where the problem was, while loading or while unloading. That would tell us whether someone messed up in Mumbai or in London. Only then would we want to issue a more detailed statement on the issue.”

Chib also said she would reserve her comment till she received a reply from the British Airways. In an email reply to this correspondent, she wrote: “We have written to the British Airways about the incident and once we have had a reply from them we will comment further on this.”

When SMD contacted the British Airways on this issue, an official British Airways spokesperson, said, “We have received a complaint and are investigating the matter. We will get back to you at the earliest.”


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